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Thursday, 5 February 2009

New @ the Walters

Rembrandt Peale Portrait Show at

Walters March 4–August 23

Exhibition will explore the mystery of the sitter's identity

Baltimore. In celebration of a recent gift to the museum by a Maryland family, the Walters Art Museum presents the focus show, Rembrandt Peale's Portrait of John Meer: A New Addition to the American Art Collection, on the work of painter Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860). The donated, undated painting, Portrait of John Meer, depicts a robust middle-aged man who points enigmatically at a human skull cradled to his body. Painted by Peale when he was probably just 17 years of age, Portrait of John Meer serves as a point of comparison with other exhibited works to trace the artist's development from a technical wunderkind to a mature painter of remarkable fluency. Highlights within the focus show include Peale's sensitive fraternal portrait, Rubens Peale with a Geranium, on loan to the Walters from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., as well as portraits from the Maryland Historical Society and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection at Atwater Kent Museum.

"This show will also explore the symbolism of the human skull in Western art and its possible significance as a clue to the profession of the sitter, who the family had always thought of as a 'Dr.' Meer," said Eik Kahng, the Walters' curator and head of the department of 18th and 19th century art.

A craftsman and friend of the Peale family, Meer emigrated from England to Philadelphia with his family in 1793. He soon lost his wife to yellow fever and nearly died of the illness himself. He survived, however, to nurse others through outbreaks of the disease that plagued the city throughout the 1790's. Peale's use of the skull poignantly recognizes the subject's personal loss, his brush with death and his heroic service to others.

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